Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:18b “. . .for a testimony against them and the Gentiles.”
Testifying for Jesus in the face of scorn and abuse results in persecutors being without excuse. While persecuting believers, unbelievers hear a clear explanation that the only way to be made right with God is through a personal relationship with Jesus. Rejecting this truth will come back to haunt them on Judgment Day.
For the Twelve, persecution will be inevitable and painful, but also productive. It will be a means whereby the message of Jesus will break loose, spreading beyond Jews in Galilee and Palestine to Gentiles around the world, and infiltrating even the highest echelons of society. God always turns the cruelty of people back against themselves. The worst scourge ever unleashed against Christianity was atheistic Communism, and yet the rise and fall of Communism is a major reason why more people are becoming Christians now than at any other time in history.
Communism hated all religions and its ruthless arm decimated many belief systems. Now that Communism has faltered, the huge spiritual voids it left behind have created vacuums, and Christianity is filling in the cracks in huge numbers.
Matt. 10:19a “But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye
shall speak:. . .”
The Twelve may have flinched at Jesus predicting they would stand before kings. The prospect could easily alarm simple fishermen. The thought of mustering one’s own self-defense before a monarch could intimidate lowly commoners.
Jesus, sensing their apprehension, decided to comfort them, to accommodate their frailty. He told them to not even begin to worry. If they will suffer for Him, He will speak for them. Human enmity will be offset by divine enlightenment.
Jesus here put His own reputation on the line. He promised His persecuted followers He would always give them words their tormentors could not refute.
To understand our text, we must be sure we know what Jesus was not speaking of. He was not talking about avoiding sermon preparation, or neglecting study before teaching a Sunday School class or a Bible study group. Jesus’ injunction applies only to cases where preparing for a speech or lesson would be impossible.
Few Bible verses have been more mangled and mutilated than this text. A text out of context is a pretext, and many have ripped this text from its context and used it as a pretext to justify laziness when preparing a sermon or Bible lesson.
J. Vernon McGee, in seminary, went with a friend to hear a fellow student preach who did not believe in preparing sermons in advance. The message was horrible and afterwards, McGee’s friend asked the preacher, “Did you prepare that message?” “Of course not.” “Well, how did you get it?” “The Spirit of God gave it to me.” “I don’t think you ought to blame that message on the Holy Spirit.”
McGee told of two preachers conversing. “What are you doing?” “I’m going over my notes for my sermon.” “Do you mean to tell me you prepare your sermons?” “Yes, don’t you?” “No, I just get up and let the Holy Spirit speak through me.” “Well, suppose when you get up, the Holy Spirit doesn’t give you the message immediately. Then what do you do?” “O, I just mess around until He does!”
I agree with J. Vernon’s conclusion. Too many preachers and teachers are just messing around, using as their excuse the words of Jesus recorded in our text.
It is criminal to be slipshod and then blame our chaotic verbiage on the Holy Spirit. Other factors being equal, if God has to choose a full or empty bucket, He will always take the full one. Inspiration and investigation are not mutually exclusive. Luke’s writings, which comprise one-fourth of the New Testament, were inspired by the Holy Spirit, but the beloved physician did his homework (LK 1:1-4).
When a co-pastor with Dad, I was one Sunday expressing concern over the sermon I was about to deliver. Dad brushed aside my worry, saying, “Son, your hay is always baled.” In other words, my sermons are always prepared. I admit my dad is partial, but I do believe rigorous preparation should be our goal. We need to give primacy to pertinent, powerful, and prepared preaching and teaching.
The promise of our text applies to situations where we are confronting persecution and have no time to prepare a response. When the pressure is on, when prechristians are abusing, refuting, and mocking us, then we need not worry about “how or what” we shall say. Jesus will provide the manner as well as the matter of our defense. Thoughts, words, tone, gesture, facial expressions, outline, structure, content, passion–everything needed to impress will come at the critical moment.
The tragedy here is that the vast majority of believers never allow the Lord a chance to prove His own promise true. We avoid the very circumstances in which we would be permitted to be part of one of God’s most powerful miracles in our lives, the ability to give a perfect answer to any argument put forth by unbelievers.
In the crucible of a potential witnessing event, in the moment when Heaven and Hell, Jesus and the devil, the believer and the unbeliever, and an everlasting destiny are all thrown in the mortar together, failure to speak then is failure indeed.
In the crucible, some believers fail to speak because they distrust their own ability. As in Jesus’ day, oratory is a refined art form many people spend their whole lives trying to master. With every aspect of oratory scrutinized, speakers are trained to make elaborate addresses and compelling appeals. To the unskilled, few thoughts are scarier than having to verbalize innermost thoughts before others. Jesus here is saying don’t worry about a lack of education or no oratory training. In the critical moment He will miraculously provide needed words and arguments.
In the crucible, some believers fail to speak because they fear they might get angry and explode. I fear this about myself. I radically believe in the truth and superiority of Christianity. I am so adamantly convinced Jesus is God and the only way to Heaven that even the least hint of rejecting Him sounds like blasphemy to me. But our anger can be muted as we claim the promise of our text and yield to Jesus. He can keep us from being mad at lost people for acting like lost people.
In the crucible, some believers fail to speak because they fear they might break down and cry. Friend, weep, let the lost see your tears. Many will never be won by arguments. Their only hope for a ticket to Heaven is for it to be acquired by the tears of someone who truly cares. Don’t fear crying too much, fear crying too little. I heard of a young preacher who often broke down and cried in the pulpit. Embarrassed, he asked God to help him stop crying in his sermons. The request was granted, but when old, the preacher said he had often wished he could get his tears back. As we contemplate an everlasting, burning lake of fire, someone ought to cry. Weep on behalf of those of us who don’t weep enough, and cry on behalf of those who won’t cry for themselves. Claim the promise of our text. The Lord will guide your tears aright and make them a river of mercy for others.
In the crucible, some believers fail to speak because they fear they might get nervous, and say the wrong words. Scourging and imprisonment are less frightening than knowing we might under duress say something that would embarrass Jesus or hurt His cause. However, even if we do speak amiss, where will we drive the lost, Hell number two, Hell number three? They are condemned already. To say nothing will result in lostness forever for sure. Only by our speaking do the lost have any chance of being saved. Don’t fear driving them away with words. Fear keeping them away with silence. Speak up, claiming the promise of our text.
In the crucible, some believers fail to speak because they begin thinking mainly of themselves. When a door opens for us to share Jesus with the lost, fear of abuse causes us to shut down at the very instant we would be entitled to receive the special anointing promised in our text. To tell or not to tell hinges on our response to the critical watershed moment in any potential soulwinning encounter.
Before the witnessing opportunity, our focus is prayerfully and unselfishly on God and the unbeliever. We fail to speak when at the critical watershed moment we quit concentrating on God and the prechristian, and begin selfishly thinking about our own self. “What will they think about me? Will they laugh and make fun of me? Will I be labeled a fanatic?” The instant we think primarily of ourselves, we falter and decide not to share the Gospel. The tragedy is, this is also the moment we forget about Jesus’ promise to help us in this precise situation.